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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


August 31, 2005

Contact:           Pete Gober 605-224-8693, x24
        Sharon Rose 303-236-4580


Beginning on Thursday, September 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with the USDA-Forest Service, National Park Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services, and the U.S. Geological Survey begins a preventative treatment program to protect an endangered black-footed ferret population from exposure to sylvatic plague on South Dakota’s Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and Badlands National Park. 

According to Pete Gober, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Pierre, plague was confirmed in a large prairie dog colony complex on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in late July.  The area is about 30 miles southwest of the successful Conata Basin black-footed ferret reintroduction site. 

The disease is usually transmitted by flea bites and has been known to decimate prairie dog colonies.  The disease can also kill black-footed ferrets which are found exclusively in prairie dog colonies.  Plague normally has a very low incidence in humans in the western United States. 

“Using an insecticide powder called deltamethrin to kill fleas in prairie dog colonies not yet exposed to the disease has proven effective in preventing its spread to healthy colonies in recent studies, thereby protecting ferrets,” said Gober.  The dusting crew will be comprised of personnel from the USDA-FS, NPS, APHIS-Wildlife Services, USGS and FWS.  

Approximately four grams of the dust is applied directly into each prairie dog burrow in the treatment area, which is a labor-intensive process using teams of applicators on foot and specially equipped ATVs. 

Gober explained that the treatment area will include approximately 5,000 acres located within the roughly 70,000-acre Conata Basin area to most effectively target areas known to contain ferrets and because of limited time and resources.  The project may take 30 days or longer to complete, depending on work crew availability and weather.

Biologists consider black-footed ferrets to be one of the most endangered mammals in North America.  Black-footed ferrets are members of the weasel family (Mustelidae), a distinction they share with weasels, martens, fishers, otters, minks, wolverines and skunks.

            The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. 

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